If you aren't hiring a car then you'll need to take a bus to get anywhere on the island. The three main companies operating routes are SAM (east of Funchal) and airport shuttle, Rodoeste (www.rodoeste.com.pt; west of Funchal) and Horários do Funchal (Funchal city buses plus some mountain services). All have online timetables and run a reliable service. There are considerably fewer buses at weekends. The vast majority of services originate and terminate in Funchal, but there are some obscure, mid-afternoon buses between other towns.
Car & Motorcycle
Many visitors hire a car while on Madeira. Having your own set of wheels makes things a lot easier and you will see more. The Via Rápida motorway links Machico with Ribeira Brava via the airport and Funchal, and has cut journey times immensely.
Away from the motorway, roads are steep, narrow and twisting so you'll need to be confident behind the wheel. An odd phenomenon on the island are the natural 'car washes', waterfalls that sluice down onto roads after rain. Debris on the road after rock falls and intense wind/rain are other things to watch out for. Elderly tourists in hire cars pose a risk all of their own.
There are several hire companies operating in Madeira, including Auto Jardim (www.carhiremadeira.net) and Guerin (www.guerin.pt). Rodavante is a local company with branches at the airport and in the Hotel Zone.
Madeira has several useful cable cars, the most frequented being the Zona Velha to Monte and Monte to Botanical Gardens services.